of Good Intentions
Tuesday 11 June, BBC TWO
The ideals of Empire may have been noble, but as the Empire of Good
Intentions shows, the reality was blood, grief and broken promises.
Britain faced the challenges and consequences of running the biggest
Empire the world had ever seen. The founding fathers of the ideal
of Imperial duty believed it was the job of Empire to give its subjects
what they need for eventual self government - education, law, hospitals,
roads and railways. But could Britain deliver both modern western
civilisation and save peasants from famine and cholera?
In 1901 the Viceroy of all India, Lord Curzon, planned a memorial
to Queen Victoria. By the time the foundation stone to this marble
extravaganza was laid, a year after Curzon left India, at least
sixteen million Indians had perished in a most terrible famine.
Mutiny as well as famine drove a wedge between British and Indian,
widened by the British lack of sensitivity to custom and religion.
Rebellion was crushed and a new rule for India saw Victoria become
Empress, but the whole idea of empire itself changed.
Nearer to home, Ireland was the victim of perhaps the most brutal
application of laissez-faireeconomic policy, thousands dying in
the great potato famine of the 1840s while grain export of the country
continued. While the politicians fought over policy, the soup kitchens
and the workhouses overflowed. Over two million Irishmen and women
trudged to the ports to find their way to America, Canada, Australia,
Into this world of contrasts came Gladstone and Disraeli. While
opinion was polarised on just how Empire should be ruled, Schama
says: "It was never so dramatically demonstrated than in the
dazzlingly contrasting styles of Disraeli and Gladstone, their views
on India and Ireland as conflicting as their personal and political
styles." While Disraeli couldn't get enough of Empire, Gladstone
championed home rule in Ireland.
In India, in Ireland, and in the industrial slums of Glasgow and
Liverpool, the liberal dream had died. In Britain, the Labour party
was created. In 1914 subjects from all corners of the empire united
for King and Country, dying in the trenches or from the catastrophic
influenza epidemic of 1918. What also died was hope that the saga
of the liberal empire would have a peaceful last act.
Produced and directed by Jamie Muir
this episode, viewers can put their questions live to Simon Schama
in an online chat at www.bbc.co.uk/history.
on the site, specially-commissioned articles discuss the British
Empire in India in the 19th century, the Irish Potato Famine, Trade
and Empire, Home Rule In Ireland, and the relationship between Gladstone
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